Ernest Gaie, 44, is the country director of the non-profit organization Africare in Liberia, where he coordinates personal safety equipment deliveries to Ebola health clinics, trainings for community health workers and Ebola contract tracers and engages with government ministries and donors. Gaie recently spoke to the Huffington Post over the phone about the toll Ebola is taking on his country. He spoke not just about the death rate (currently 6,535 cases and 2,413 deaths, as of Oct. 27) , but of the impact that the disease has had on survivors, communities and Liberians as a whole.
Right now I’m here alone. My wife lives in the U.S. and our daughter is in boarding school in Kenya. [My daughter is] in high school there and finishing on the 21st of November. It seems that I will not be able to be at her graduation because of the travel ban. Kenya’s government has banned travelers from Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. I'm very, very sad. But it is what it is.
I’m stuck -- I can’t get out of here because I’m afraid. I don’t want to be quarantined or make the neighbors afraid to interact with my family. I’ve heard stories from colleagues who have gone back to the U.S. People are asking their kids to stay away from school for 21 days because their dad or mom has [come] from one of these affected countries. Spouses are asked to stay away from work a total of 21 days. I don’t want to take my family through that right now.
I’m just here doing what I can do with the hope that this will pass and I’ll be able to go back and spend some time with them.
A couple of days ago, I was on a local radio show, and one of the things I mentioned to them was that we need to have a change in our attitude as we collectively respond to [Ebola]. An attitude in terms of the way we govern, the messages we send out, the way we generate reports, the way we present reports and the way we treat people on the front lines who are providing services.
The virus is what it is, and it could come anywhere. It’s a virus. I think until the international community realizes that this could have happened anywhere in the world, rather than stigmatize, they would rally around people who are in these affected countries. [They would] see how we can support them morally and financially, to ensure and understand what is required to stop the further spread of the virus.
I also think that people who are currently stigmatizing those coming from affected countries -- what they don’t understand is that by doing that, they are increasing the psychological impact of the disease on an already emotionally drained and over-burdened society in these three countries. If it is not addressed adequately, we will have an epidemic -- for lack of a better word -- of mentally ill people.
There seems to be ignorance. I can understand that people need to institute measures to curb the further spread of the Ebola virus itself. But to cast a blanket stigmatization on a particular group of people because they live in the geographic area where this virus is raging, I think is particularly unfortunate. Because I don’t think that this is something that Liberians, Guineans or Sierra Leoneans brought upon ourselves.
This call is not just to people outside of these countries. It’s a call to people even inside these countries. In trying to control the virus, we have also stigmatized and discriminated against people. We have quarantined communities without caring for their basic needs. We need to step back and see how we can collectively work together to make sure that even in the midst of this epidemic, people are treated with dignity and respect.
We are citizens and residents of these affected countries. We need to take the lead. That’s why I’m calling on the citizens of these affected three countries to unite and demonstrate, irrespective of their social and political differences, against a common enemy: the Ebola virus disease epidemic.
For example, there are a number of ways it has effected children, especially those who have lost their parents to the disease. Obviously they are now orphans, and are left to the mercy of our society or other relatives to provide care. Even relatives of those children who are taking them in -- the larger community is resenting that. That is creating a problem and further exposing these children to vulnerability of either becoming street children, risking possibility of being trafficked or abused.
I think people need to look beyond how they don’t want people from Ebola affected communities to come to our communities. What is important is how can we stop the further spread and transmission of the virus. It is time that we stop discriminating and stigmatizing and be more supportive and caring our brothers and sisters who are trapped.
As told to Anna Almendrala